When things don’t go to plan

Sun Princess
Princess Cruises was unfairly criticised for its handling of the recent Sun Princess incident

In a recent article on Cruise News about the cancellation of Sun Princess’s first cruise after dry dock, Princess Cruise Lines was at the receiving end of several scathing comments and other pieces elsewhere online. It is clear that no cruise operator takes such a decision lightly, as both reputation and cost implications are enormous, but it is also clear that the health and safety of our passengers are of paramount importance and that any and all decisions are taken with that in mind.

In my opinion, the Princess management reacted as fast as they could to a last minute glitch which severely impacted their operational capabilities. Finding and booking accommodation and rearranging flights for 2,000 plus passengers is an enormous task, which cannot be done with the wave of a magic wand.

In our company dealing with small ship cruises, we luckily only have 350 passengers as the maximum we need to deal with at a time, but even that could be, and has been, a serious additional effort for the company to deal with.

‘Mini disasters’ such as this are something the industry has to live with, whether it is due to mechanical failures, human errors, or force majeure, as we recently experienced with the flooding in Central Europe. Our industry doesn’t have ‘standby cruise ships’ which can be at the scene within a few hours. What truly matters is how we react to and communicate about these situations.

Interest in disaster preparedness is proportional to the recency and magnitude of the last disaster, so now perhaps is the time to think about putting pro-active systems and processes in place to prevent or reduce the impacts of all the risks your business might be running.

Now may be the time to add a ‘master of disaster’ to your organisation’s chart.

At eWaterways everyone is involved in risk & crisis management planning, each member of staff has their duties to perform depending on they type of crisis, but it’s our senior leadership’s task to oversee the implementation and then lead the company to an appropriate level of alertness and readiness.

Soren Langelund
Soren Langelund

We have formed a crisis management team, whose purpose is to provide a centralised structure that can make and implement decisions rapidly in the midst of a crisis. The crisis management team’s goal is to exercise stewardship and social responsibility to all stakeholders, and get the organisation back to business as usual, as soon as possible.

In the area of communication, crisis management experts’ advice is erring on the side of over-disclosure, even at the risk of harming one’s legal positioning. You must speak up. If the CEO is not prepared to talk, reporters will find someone else who is.  In the age of immediate, global internet information exchange, ‘no comment’ is an unacceptable response. Media will fast-forward to sources anywhere on the globe.

One major key to crisis management is to seek to reduce the impact of a natural or human-sourced crisis before it arise, at eWaterways the knowledge of water levels in the rivers as well as knowledge of lock-workers strike actions are just part of daily routine, and our onboard hotel managers are closely monitoring the local situations in order to assess how vulnerable they could be to events which might impact both supply chain and customer excursions.

It’s all about being ready and this involves more than making plans and running an occasional exercise. Managers and staff need to be psychologically and physiologically prepared for the impact and stresses that crisis events impose upon them and acquire crisis management and communication skills.

The operational response is essential; it is the one that may save lives, property and other assets as we all learned in the past couple of months, but communication is equally important, it’s the one that saves the business and makes our clients believe in us and ensures their return.

The key to success is leadership, not only during the crisis but, now more than ever, leadership in developing proactive plans for all areas of the company, and now is the time for you to show that you are pro-actively organising systems and capabilities to handle a crisis, which undoubtedly at some stage will come!


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